An email popped up in my inbox with URGENT REQUEST in the subject line. It was followed a few minutes later by “SUPER URGENT REQUEST” and then “URGENT REQUEST; IMMEDIATE RESPONSE REQUIRED.”
This was not a life and death request. It was from a client who wanted to see a new color incorporated into a logo I had designed. While I didn’t find it super urgent, I nevertheless answered each email promptly, though it was hard to prioritize with the all-cap headings screaming for my attention.
Lately my clients had become increasingly demanding. At first they seemed nice enough, many down-right charming. But mid-job they would become neurotic and child-like. And their emails had become harried and impatient, and none more so than the urgent requests from Jodi.
Jodi was my client’s assistant, and my client was an eccentric billionaire who owned several companies. He had a shock of curly silver hair paired with thick-rimmed glasses. He wore a shiny Chinese bathrobe with flip-flops to our first meeting, striking a mental hospital patient-vibe.
We were discussing the logo for his newest venture — a retail chain much like Crate and Barrel, but more upscale. Actually, the store would not be just a store, but an experience. “The experience,” he later corrected me. He is one of those people, when surrounded by his staff in a conference room, who just shouts out words—or anything that pops into his head—like they’re the most innovative, forward thinking nouns or adjectives ever uttered. The. Next. Big. Thing.
“Yellow!” he said out of the blue. Long pause. “Christie, what do you think of yellow?” I was silently formulating the correct response when he jumped in.
“Because we feel that yellow is the new black. Or gold? Was it gold or yellow? I believe gold was the new black and now yellow is the new gold, so in a way, yes, yellow is the new black. Jodi, did you get that? Write that down.”
“Like a banana yellow or school bus yellow, or more of a lemon yellow?” I asked trying to play his game. “Should I explore other colors for the logo, or do you feel with certainty that it should be yellow?”
“No, no, no, not with certainty. Absolutely not. Explore everything! Everything! Let nothing go unexplored. Go crazy – have fun. Be creative!”
“Birds!” he piped up later. “How do we feel about birds, people?”
“In respect to the logo or as a creature in general?” I asked. And the words continued to fly like moths to the light. Elephants! Gray! Asian Motifs! Yin and Yang! Door knockers! Environmental! Leaves! Chocolate brown!
I had a very unclear idea of what he wanted, but I did know I wanted to impress this billionaire and his team at the initial creative meeting in two weeks, since he could be a potentially huge client.
I worked day and night on the presentation, and showed far more versions of a logo than usual as well as many striking color options. The hard work paid off.
“Brilliant!” he shouted. “Just brilliant. This is the best presentation we’ve had in years. What a talent! Jodi, isn’t she talented? I want her pulled in on more projects! Rugs! Wallpaper designs! Lamp shades! Chair cushions! Coffee! Jodi, bring me a coffee!”
Unfortunately, although he considered me brilliant, he considered himself more brilliant, and didn’t go with my recommendations. The first few meetings went relatively well, but due to a series of events too lengthy (and frankly, boring) to describe here, the logo was dumbed down to the point of stupification. And I hated it. I resented it — he had forced my hand. I didn’t want to be associated with it in any way, yet I had to interact with it every day as many rounds of color studies followed.
Couriers arrived bearing little fabric swatches, little squares cut out of a magazine, the blue on the lid of a box, a sweater and paint cracked off a peeling brick wall. I was to match each of these as closely as possible using PMS color standards used by printers. I would send back their small objects with the closest chip available taped to it, but to no avail.
Turns out green was the new yellow which was the new gold which was the new black. Once that was decided I thought surely we were on the home front. I was wrong.
I continued to receive strange objects with sticky notes attached to them. A Tiffany’s bag with the note “but more chartreuse,” a hairpin with a sparkly green emerald, “just like this, but flat, not shiny,” and an alligator skin leather swatch marked “between this and sea green.”
After nine months of deliberating on the exact shade, I tried to hurry them along, especially since I had a deadline approaching as well — I was heading to Peru for two months to work on a writing project.
I tried his own language. “This is not just green—it gives the viewer a full-color experience.” I began to emote dramatically. “I want to be enveloped in this green and stay there; I want to curl up inside it and live there. It’s like mother earth. I want to be married to this green—and have its green-tinted children. It’s. The. Next. Big. Thing… in the world of color.”
I trailed off, in a thoughtful, definitive way. “Kelly Green.” Pause. “Beauty.” Pause. “Richness.” Pause. “Sophistication.” It made for a strange conference call.
Afterward, I borrowed yet another technique I’d learned from them and began to title my emails: “RESONSE REQUESTED” then “DECISION CRITICAL”, then “COLOR DECISION MANDATORY TO MAKE PRINTING DEADLINE.”
And then, in a true stroke of brilliance, I turned over all the files to the difficult client, complete with entire set of PMS chips. They had all the materials at their disposal to make a decision, while I was able to make my deadline — buckled up in a plane headed to another hemisphere.
And now, I am my own client. Fortunately the only bathrobe and flip-flops I see are the ones I’m wearing — in a much more appropriate environment — sitting comfortably in my hotel room writing away.